U.S. Copyright Group Sets Sights on BitTorrent Users

"Coercion … is the practice of forcing another party to behave in an involuntary manner (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation, trickery, or some other form of pressure or force."
Wikipedia

Coercion sounds ugly yet, in the form of laws, it is actually a foundation of civilization. The entry on coercion on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy site says: "It helps keep the bloody minded and recalcitrant from harming others, and seems also to be an indispensable technique in the rearing of children."

So it would seem that we humans need coercion to keep the wheels of society oiled. But while social coercion is justified, there are also unjustifiable forms of coercion that are quite obviously based on the abuse of law.

Consider the following: A company, the U.S. Copyright Group, formed by a group of lawyers at the behest of "an ad hoc coalition of independent film producers," has set out to coerce BitTorrent users into settling out of court for illegal movie downloads.

According to a story by The Hollywood Reporter on March 30, the U.S. Copyright Group has filed court actions on some 20,000 users already and around 30,000 other suits are in the works.

Most of the cases so far have involved relatively obscure independent films. The reason that the major studios movies aren't involved is that -- despite expressing interest -- they "wanted to see proof that [Internet Service Providers] would be cooperative."

Underlying the program is a service provided a German company, Guardaley IT, that uses "real-time monitoring" of BitTorrent transfers to identify movie downloads then captures IP addresses and time stamps them. The IP addresses are traced and the originating ISPs are then subpoenaed to reveal the identity of the associated user. Finally, assuming the ISPs play ball, legal action starts and the users are offered the choice of defending themselves in court or settling out of court.

Of course, there is no way it can be guaranteed that all of the accused users are really guilty; ISPs make mistakes, hackers can fake IP addresses … there are scores of ways the innocent can be misidentified, but the expectation of the U.S. Copyright Group and the filmmakers they represent is that the majority of accused users (whether guilty or not) will choose to pay up as the cost of litigation could be orders of magnitude greater.

One of the lawyers involved in the U.S. Copyright Group explained the plan as, "We're creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel."

Just reflect on that statement for a moment. The weasely obfuscation is a work of art. It sounds like a business plan despite being another way of saying, "We're shaking the punters down." Even the domain name of the company, savecinema.org, manages to sound like a noble nonprofit despite the enterprise being decidedly for-profit.

Apparently some ISPs are charging as much as $60 for each account revealed. This is bad news because, should the major studios decide to join in and retain the U.S. Copyright Group, the number of users accused could quickly balloon into the hundreds of thousands, giving the ISPs a serious financial motivation to comply.

No one condones piracy but this scheme is not a sensible way to solve the problem; it is simply a way for a bunch of lawyers to make money. If anything could underline just how much copyright laws need overhauling, this corrupt example of legal coercion has to be the poster child.

Gibbs doesn't want to get fingered while downloading the latest Ubuntu release in Ventura, Calif. Tell backspin@gibbs.com how safe you feel.

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